Maria Ortutay Thibodeau
It was sometime near 5:00 in the afternoon. I had just finished eating pizza with my fellow teachers. Open House at the American International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was set to start at 6:00 p.m., and I was putting the last touches on a bulletin board.
The board was above built-in cabinets, and since I am short, I had climbed on top of them and was adjusting some pictures as two teachers walked into my room. I overheard them talking about a plane crashing into a building, and since I had been reading "Executive Orders" by Tom Clancy, I paid attention to what they were saying. This book begins with an airline pilot flying a commercial jetliner straight into the Capitol. Naturally, when I heard about airplane crashing into a building, I thought that they were discussing the book and commented on it. But, they were not talking about a book. One of them had just received a message from her husband, a contractor at a nearby U.S. Air Force base telling her someone had flown a jet into one of the Twin Towers.
We were stunned. Everyone at the school was unaware of what was happening on the other side of the world, where it was near 10:00 in the morning. We had no TV reception, so we tried the Internet. It was slow – too many people on, we guessed. So our librarian, Sherry, began a chat with a former expat. He would type the information that he was hearing on the TV. Little by little the group around her got bigger as word got out of the inconceivable tragedy. By then the preparation of our classrooms was forgotten as we focused on every letter, word, then sentence that appeared on that screen. Then came the sentence, “The South Tower has collapsed.” We all just held our breath … it could not be true! Sherry typed, “ What part?” “All of it,” was the reply. Numb, with tears running down, all gathered watched the blurred screen. I don’t remember what else came on. Most of us had, at sometime or other been at the World Trade Center! How ….
An announcement came on. Open House was canceled. As we left the school, parents and children were excitedly approaching the entrance. They had not heard the news, yet. My husband was playing softball that night and I was getting a ride with a fellow teacher, a Texan married to a Saudi. Since women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, he came to pick us up. I remember him fervently saying, “I hope there were not Saudis involved in this!”